The universal desire to heal those we care about has made medicine a prime innovator throughout human history. The medical field has always been on the cutting edge, and some people would even be surprised what kinds of science fiction-style techniques exist in hospitals and operating rooms today.
For instance, the first telesurgery was performed in 2001. A decade and a half ago, a surgeon in the United States operated on a patient in France. Between then and now, doctors, computers, and robots have worked together well enough that science is only years away from implementing gesture-based technology in the OR, in which doctors motion to robots, who can perform tasks in the operating theater that would risk compromising the doctor’s sterile environment.
But the techniques that are a few years away aren’t as interesting as the ones that can’t be implemented yet. Due to constraints on existing technology, these are 4 healthcare technologies that remain years away, but will define the future in healthcare industries.
1. Nanobot Surgery
There’s a joke in the classic Star Trek series, in which the Enterprise crew visits the past. The ship’s doctor comments on the barbarity of cutting patients open in order to operate on them. The dream of surgery without incisions is truly the mark of the future.
Nanobots—microscopic robots—promise to make this dream a reality. According to Mashable, researchers in Zurich are closest to developing working nanobots. The robots developed by the team in Switzerland, which will be thinner than 4 human hairs, will be moved around by electromagnetism and will make any surgery non-invasive. That’s ultimately the promise of nanotechnology in medicine: rendering any surgery non-invasive.
2. Drone Ambulances
Like many technologies initially developed by the military, unmanned aerial vehicles—commonly called drones—are going to be adapted to the civilian world. According to a journalist writing for Hospital Impact, “drones already have been trialed to deliver food aid and medical supplies to areas hit by disaster, such as Haiti.”
Unlike military drones, which take off and land on runways like planes, civilian drones usually take off vertically, like helicopters. They’re known as quadcopters, for the 4 rotor-mounts positioned parallel to the ground. The real revolution will be when quadcopters are sophisticated and powerful enough to act as ambulances, evacuating people safely and cheaply by air.
As it stands, air rescue by helicopter is tremendously expensive and scarcely available. According to NBC News, a single helicopter ambulance flight in America costs between $12,000 and $25,000. A lack of air rescue can mean the difference between life and death for someone who’s seriously hurt in a remote area. Drone ambulances will make this danger a thing of the past.
3. Augmented Reality Оperating Тheatres
A heads-up display (HUD) is a digitally augmented screen that supplies users with information without requiring them to look elsewhere. In the near future, a surgeon’s HUD, possibly in the form of something like Google Glass, will provide them with necessary information in real-time, as they operate. This will be the augmented reality operating theatre.
The information supplied to a surgeon in an augmented reality theatre is leagues beyond what’s currently possible. For instance, a Stanford university physician outlines a case in which data from an MRI, previously taken of the patient, is rendered and uploaded to the physician’s HUD in such a way that it helps her see exactly where a tumor is located in a patient’s body.
Computer-supported surgeries will totally integrate all of a patient’s data, in a way that is useful to a surgeon in the operating theater. It’s a data dream realized—all the necessary information, collected, and presented in the most helpful way possible.
4. 3D Printing Anything
3D printing, though the technology is still in its infancy, is going to revolutionize plenty of things. It’s already introducing changes to consumer goods. It’s being used to print necessary objects in space. When the International Space Station needed a new wrench, mission control beamed one up—from the computers on Earth to the orbiting station’s printer, and into the astronaut’s hand.
3D printing has a similar revolutionary promise for medicine. With the correct base ingredients inserted in a printer, doctors will be able to print equipment, like the astronauts on the space station. However, someday they’ll be able to fabricate drugs and even blood and organs.
When this arrives, it’ll eliminate the need for donors—of which there are always too few.
The future is already here in healthcare—but the developments that can’t be implemented yet will be truly revolutionary. Today, though, technology is constantly evolving and providing healthcare professionals with innovative healthcare solutions such as gesture manipulated patient images during surgery. These solutions facilitate surgeons and make their job easier, and increase patient care immensely.
The sort of developments currently changing operating rooms for the better are a heartening sign of the lifesaving technologies to come. Is there a futuristic medical development that you’re excited about? Let us know in the comments below.